From Watteau to Fragonard – Les Fetes Galantes at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre

Earlier this week we discussed Coachella and the fashion season and collections the tradition of summer festivals has spawned. So to this I raise you the original outdoor summer party version francais, best captured by a painter called Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) in the late 1700’s who created an entire movement within the Academy during the Rococo period dedicated to these scenes. The term literally translates into “courtship party”, and refers to variations on the theme, featuring figures dressed in ball gowns or masquerades and acting out flirtatious and innuendos in pastorial, exhuberant settings. Watteau rediscovered the tradition of the pastorale of the Venetian painters of the 16th and 17th centuries but gave it not only a modern twist but a French one as well: the characters depicted are delicate, modern, young, and often times based on real Parisiens a la mode. Fashion was becoming more and more important to French society and this is very much transmitted by the arts of the time. The fantasy land they depict is Arcadia and Cytheria, classic mythological locations but at the same time was extremely contemporary.   imgres

expowatteau On view right now at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre is an showdedicated to all the painters who took this theme and worked on different variations of it. Among them, we can see works by the greats of the Rococo period such as the aforementioned Watteau, Lancret, Pater, and Fragonard.
It is divided into six sections: the origins of the theme by Watteau, the evolution of the theme by other painters, Watteau’s creative process via sketches, the Oriental influence, and the reality of the time. The exposition is on view until July 2014. When I majored in Art History my professors always skimmed over the Rococo period, rushing over the syllabus from as it is sometimes regarded as a “lesser” period in the arts because it was not highly influential, it is sometimes discarded as superficial and frivolous and thus, completely girly. I wish I could have taken an entire class dedicated to the Rococo, as I think it is fundamental to understanding fashion culture today – we need not look any further than Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the shabby-chic interior design, the cupcake explosion all over the world, the proliferation of pastels every few seasons, and on and on.

PS – Can’t help but remark on the impeccable timing of the show…due to the nature of the themes, it definitely works best for the Spring/Summer season.

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